Concert notes: Park Jiha at LSO St Lukes

What a difference a venue makes. Uncomfortable seats, noisy air conditioning and poor sight lines meant that Park Jiha’s gig at the Rich Mix in the 2019 K-music festival was less enjoyable than it could have been.

At LSO St Luke’s at the end of January everything seemed right. Yes, there was the faint hiss of air conditioning, but you soon adjusted for it. Somehow, despite the playlist being fairly similar to the K-music gig, and despite the fact I was sitting much further away from the stage, the music felt much more immediate. The space was bigger, but felt more intimate. It felt as if there were fewer distractions. You could feel yourself gradually being absorbed and then carried off by Park’s ethereal sounds.

Park Jiha plays piri
© Miguel Santos 2020 – All rights reserved.

As before, I liked her pieces where she plays piri (oboe) best – the teasing way she plays with pitch and volume against the minimalist background of the looped yanggeum track produces a strangely emotional effect. But this time the solo yanggeum (dulcimer) pieces worked better too – the prerecorded background noise of rainfall, traffic sounds, or the grating sound of a bow being dragged across the metal dulcimer strings, came across more distinctively.

Park arrived on stage almost unnoticed, certainly unapplauded. The audience gradually realised she was there and settled into silence, and Park began. After the first number there was polite applause, which Park barely acknowledged, before moving on to the next piece. In fact, throughout the set Park seemed wrapped in her own private world, concentrating on her performance with intense focus, almost locking the audience out.

Park Jiha with Saenghwang
© Miguel Santos 2020 – All rights reserved.

As she lifted the saenghwang, testing its weight, she seemed to look into the middle distance in much the same way that a sportsman, maybe a weightlifter, seeks to summon up inner strength before releasing an explosive burst of energy. With Park of course there are no explosions, but maybe her performance emits a peaceful gi that communicates itself silently to the audience alongside the music itself. With each number the audience received the playing more warmly, and the applause got louder and more enthusiastic. It was not until just before her final number that Park spoke to the audience (at the Rich Mix she spoke in between most pieces). But by the end of the set the audience had truly taken her to their hearts. Maybe they were ensnared in the web that Park seemed quietly to have been weaving.

I think we were ready for another set from Park of the same length immediately after the interval, but this was a double bill, and in the second half the clarinettist Wacław Zimpel took the stage. Park’s set was centred around her latest album Philos. I’ve listened to the album several times and recognised some of the tracks live; but even the tracks that were familiar seemed fresh, more intense than on the album. Do go and hear her live if you get the chance… provided the venue is right.

Park Jiha plays yanggeum
© Miguel Santos 2020 – All rights reserved.

Thanks to the Barbican for the complimentary ticket, and to Miguel Santos for the photos. You can buy the album Philos on Amazon.co.uk and elsewhere.

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